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South Africa says not bullied by West to take sides in Russia-Ukraine war

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
South African Minister of International Relations and Cooperation Naledi Pandor

South Africa says it will not be bullied if the West mounts pressure on the country into taking sides in the Russia-Ukraine war, accusing the West of sometimes taking a patronizing attitude toward Africa.

South African Minister of International Relations and Cooperation Naledi Pandor made the comments in a joint press conference with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken in the capital Pretoria.

“In terms of our interaction with some of our partners in Europe and elsewhere, there has been a sense of patronizing bullying toward ‘you choose this or else,’” she said, stressing, “One thing I definitely dislike is being told ‘either you choose this or else.’  When a minster speaks to me like that … I definitely will not be bullied in that way, nor would I expect any other African country worth its salt to agree to be treated.”

The remarks by Pandor, whose country has remained neutral on the Russia-Ukraine war, came as China's envoy to Moscow, Zhang Hanhui, on Wednesday backed Russia in the war, slamming the US, which is trying to isolate China in Africa, as the “main instigator” in the crisis.

Relations between South Africa and the US have been strained after the former remained neutral the current war between Ukraine and Russia.

However, Pandor said Washington had not asked her country to take sides in the conflict but criticized the US bill passed in April - “Countering Malign Russian Activities in Africa Act,” which has been seen by some in Africa as a vehicle to punish African countries that have not toed the line on Ukraine.

“The recent legislation passed in the United States of America by the House of Representatives, we found a most unfortunate bill that we had hoped the media would say more about. Because when we believe in freedom as I’m saying, it’s freedom for everybody you can’t say because Africa is doing this, you will then be punished by the United States. So that’s been a disappointing passage of legislation by one House, and we hope the other house will not agree to such offensive legislation,” the South African minister stated.

Russia began its "special military operation" in Ukraine on February 24, to demilitarize and "de-Nazify" its neighbor and to "liberate" the Donbass, which is composed of the two breakaway regions of Donetsk and Luhansk. 

Since the onset of the conflict, the US and its Western allies have imposed waves of unprecedented sanctions on Moscow and unleashed floods of advanced weapons into Ukraine to fend off Russian forces.

According to Bob Wekesa, director of the African Center for the Study of the United States, Washington “is attempting to figure out how to get South Africa on to its side, but South Africa is not coming to the party.”

In her concluding remarks on the issue, Pandor said it was important for all to respect different opinions held by different nations.

“We are after all, sovereign nations that are recognized as equal in terms of the UN Charter. We may differ in terms of economic power and economic ability to influence developments in different parts of the world, but what will make the world work is if we respect each other,” she said.

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